By Michael Coughlin Jr.
Just over three years since it was first approved, the South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) approved the redevelopment of the old Alexandra Hotel once again during its monthly hearing Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The development that would restore the façade of the historic hotel and erect a new 13-story residential building was approved unanimously by Commissioners of the SELDC with several provisos.
Some of these provisos include that the applicant and commission must examine the Alexandra Hotel façade to determine which parts of the architecture should be preserved in their current condition and which parts are to be restored or replaced in its original condition. Future examinations would then need to be approved by staff.
Staff will also review the development’s exterior façade lighting plan, and no additional floors will be approved, among other provisos.
Although the project, as previously mentioned, was unanimously approved, the commissioners identified just how difficult it was to finally decide on the redevelopment.
“This is probably one of the most difficult applications I have faced in 26 years. Mostly because no matter how we vote, something important will be compromised, and I think only history will be the judge if whether or not we succeeded here,” said Commissioner John Amodeo.
“There are people who are going to be unhappy and people who will be happy no matter what we do; it’s just the way it is, and it’s tough,” said Commissioner Catherine Hunt.
Over the years that this proposed development has been in the works, it has gained significant support from residents, and the public comment portion of the Dec. 6 meeting reinforced that notion.
State Representative Jon Santiago voiced his support for the project, referencing how his constituents in the South End and lower Roxbury have reacted to the redevelopment.
“This is a project that many of us in the South End and lower Roxbury have been advocating for, as we said here, for a number of years,” said Santiago.
“Throughout it all, there has been a significant amount of community support – one that I would argue has grown over time.”
District Seven City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson also indicated how much support this project has gotten and voiced her support for the development.
“I’d like to go on record in support based on the feedback and all of the letters that I have documented and all of the meetings and commentary from the public,” said Anderson.
While elected officials Santiago and Anderson summarized a public comment session that included massive support, some opposed the project.
One of those detractors was Carol Streiff, who was not a fan of the project and pondered how it would be viewed in the future.
“I know that the votes are going to go against me – I am well aware of that. All I can say is that it is with great sadness that I will come away from this meeting tonight because I know that 50 years from now, people are going to look at that awful glass tower on top of that beautiful building, and they’re going to wonder – what in the world were we thinking of here in Boston,” said Streiff.
Connie Forbes of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association (GTNA) was also in opposition to the project due to procedural issues and what precedent a 13-story building could set for the area.
“I want to get it on the record that there are policies and procedures that are being violated, and once you do that – you remove that cap of 70 feet – be aware that I don’t know if you can put that cap or that genie back in the bottle,” said Forbes.
Forbes’ concerns about precedent regarding the height of the development seem valid, as commissioners John Freeman and Amodeo mentioned they were not that keen on a 13-story building in the area.
However, even with those feelings, the SELDC did not sound too concerned that approval of the project would allow developers to run rampant with the height of future developments.
Amodeo referenced extenuating circumstances explicitly outlined in an October 2019 design approval letter that he explained would be “virtually impossible” to replicate in the South End, making it difficult for other developments to use the Alexandra Hotel project as a precedent.
Some of the circumstances mentioned include the deterioration and abandonment of the building for over 50 years, failed redevelopment plans in the past, and the immense support of the current project from the communities of the South End and Roxbury.
As part of the provisos in the SELDC’s approval of the project, the circumstances that serve to avoid setting a precedent still stand and could be updated.
“We are working very hard to ensure that there is no precedent being set by any approval,” said Amodeo.
As for the project’s future, it has essentially been approved in concept as it will still be subject to an ongoing process of reviews concerning the building, its design, and the preservation of the Alexandra Hotel façade.